The Serrano Succession

The Serrano Succession by Elizabeth Moon Read Free Book Online

Book: The Serrano Succession by Elizabeth Moon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Moon
Tags: Science-Fiction
horses and the people who had identified themselves as horse people since long before humans left Old Earth.
    She reminded herself that she had time for both, now. No longer need she fear the advancing years, the aging of joints and bones that would make her slower, clumsier. She could afford to spend a few months now dealing with whatever complication Pedar meant, without losing it.
    But she didn't want to.
    And Pedar knew that. As she dipped the asymmetrical spoon always used with Biaristi cold soups, as she refreshed her mouth afterwards with a sip of Eran ale, and went on to the crunchy-coated strips of spiced rock grouse, she was aware that Pedar, in sounding her out, was expecting exactly the retreat she most wanted to make. He had turned the conversation back to the Trials, to her chances, and his. She answered automatically, but watched as from a distance the subtle signals of his expressions.
    What a toad the man was, after all. He would dangle some conspiracy in front of her for his own amusement, sure that she could not concentrate on anything but horses for long enough to learn anything dangerous, or do anything . . .
    "I think you're quite right to ride anyway," Pedar said. "After all, it's too late to attend any ceremony."
    "The horse is ready," Cecelia said, fighting back an urge to change her mind and not ride after all. "And so am I. You're staying too."
    "For the same reasons," Pedar said. "I'm ready; my horse is ready, and my competition . . . is here."
    And because it gave him a strong apparent alibi. While someone had plotted Bunny's assassination, Pedar had been very publicly visible a very long way away, supervising his horse in training for the Senior Trials. Cecelia knew it would have been possible to have it done—anyone knew that—but finding and proving the links would be more difficult. And dangerous.
    She was, she discovered on the day, more ready than she knew for this particular event. While nothing could make the Senior Trials effortless, she was hardly aware of the effort she exerted. Seniority reacted well to her detached calmness, and put in faultless cross-country and stadium rounds . . . which, in the end, were enough to win, when the dressage leader (also faultless in cross-country) had a rail down the next day. Liam Ardahi had to withdraw during the cross-country, when Plantagenet refused the water repeatedly. Cecelia wondered if that were entirely an accident; Plantagenet had always been bold into water. But if Pedar wanted her distracted by a major win . . . he was ruthlessly competitive, but he had won a much larger competition—as he saw it.
    She smiled for the press on her victory gallop, and remembered to thank all her staff, enclosing a personal note with the bonus credit each received. At the reception that evening, she wore her amber necklace carved in the likeness of Epona. Like that enigmatic goddess, she smiled and accepted congratulations, finally pleading a sore elbow in order to leave before midnight.
    An hour later, wearing a groom's overall, she was hacking down the dark road to the spaceport on Max, whose alert ears and brisk movement revealed that the horse, at least, thought this was a fine idea. If anyone asked, her groundcar was parked in the stable lot, and everyone knew that she was likely to have gone to the stables to end the night's celebration there. Colum had had Max saddled for her—an extra hack would do that one no harm—but had been out of sight when she led the horse out.
    Five kilometers away, where a service road met the tracks of A Course, Phase C, Dale waited with the truck and trailer, in which a horse stamped its impatience; Roz had driven her own battered little groundcar. Cecelia swung off Max, helped load him in the trailer beside Dulcy—Max could be difficult to load in an empty trailer—then struggled with the car's cranky driver-side door. Roz slammed it from outside,

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